Supreme Court in Russia’s Altai overrules acquittal of VIP poachers

GORNO-ALTAISK, August 11 (RIA Novosti)

he Altai Republic’s Supreme Court has overruled the acquittal of poachers, two of them high-ranking officials, convicted of hunting endangered mountain sheep, and ordered a retrial with a new panel of judges.

A helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Chernaya Mountain in Altai in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and an environmental off icial.

The officials were allegedly on an illegal hunting expedition when the helicopter crashed. Three of the four people who survived the crash – the republic’s deputy prime minister Anatoly Bannykh, deputy chief of a Moscow university, Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky – were brought to trial.

The investigation into the case was closed twice over the lack of evidence of the suspects’ involvement in poaching. The court eventually acquitted them, frustrating environmentalists and animals rights activists.

The Argali sheep is included on Russia’s list of protected species as well as on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list. Hunting wild rams has been forbidden in Russia since 1930.

The case sparked public outcry after images of the helicopter’s wreckage, in which dead wild rams were clearly seen, a ppeared on the internet soon after the crash.

Russian officials cleared of poaching charges (shooting argali from helicopter in Altai)

Russian officials cleared of poaching charges

23 May 2011
A court in southern Siberia’s Altai Republic on Monday acquitted three high-ranking officials whose hunting of endangered animals led to a deadly helicopter crash two years ago.

Judge Nikolai Lubenitsky said the prosecution had failed to prove the defendants’ guilt. He also said all the three men could claim compensation for damages sustained as a result of the prosecution.

A Mi-17 helicopter carrying government officials crashed near Altai’s Chernaya mountain in January 2009, killing seven people, including the Russian president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and a federal environmental official.

It was subsequently alleged that the officials had been hunting endangered mountain sheep.

Four people survived the crash, including the republic’s deputy prime minister, Anatoly Bannykh, who resigned after the crash; deputy head of the Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Kapranov, and State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky.

The three officials were charged with illegal hunting and faced up to two years in prison if found guilty.

KOSH-AGACH (Altai Republic), May 23 (RIA Novosti)

Initial hearings take place in the argali hunting case (Altai Republic)

13 Jan 2011

The rare species argali hunting case will begin on January 26. This decision was taken at a hearing held on 13 January presided over by Nikolai Lubenitsky, chairman of the Kosh-Agach Rayon court, which is hearing this case.

The subject of these preliminary hearings (generally used for hearing processual questions, evidentiary issues, etc.) is not known. All of the accused traveled to Kosh-Agach to participate in these hearings – businessman and former vice-governor of Altai Republic Anatoly Bannykh, general director of Ineko Boris Belinsky, and vice director of the Moscow’s Institute of Economics and Law Nikolai Karpanov.

They stand accused under Part 2, Article 258 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (collusion to illegally hunt by a group for animals whose killing is completely forbidden, with the infliction of gross harm and the use of airborne transport), the penalty for which ranges from a fine up to two years’ imprisonment. The accused in the case are pleading not guilty to the charges.


Translation by Jennifer Castner

WWF Altai-Sayan Newsletter issue #13: July – September, 2010

WWF Russia and WWF Mongolia share the main achievements of both offices in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion regarding species conservation, protected areas, ecotourism, public awareness, education, eco clubs, fresh water. For the full version of the newsletter in pdf format,
click here
. Several articles reference snow leopards:

WWF Russia
Camera Trapping in Argut River Valley

Snow Leopard Camera Trapping project started in August in Argut Valley – the largest snow leopard distribution in Russia located in the very heart of Altai Mountains. Over the next six months (October 2010-March 2011), a pilot monitoring project of the Argut snow leopard population will take place in this region, thanks to support from WWF, UNDP/GEF, Panthera Foundation, Altai Assistance Project and The Altai Project.

With support from UNDP/GEF a seminar for local residents took place in the Argut Valley village of Inegen on August 23-28, 2010.

Rodney Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy (USA), a leading international snow leopard expert was invited to serve as the seminar’s instructor. During the training in Inegen, two local residents already involved in snow leopard population counts in the Argut River valley and Sergei Spitsyn, a rare species expert at Altaisky Nature Reserve, were trained in the use of digital Reconyx RapidFire and HyperFire cameras, as well as their implementation in snow leopard habitat and techniques for conducting camera-trapping population surveys for snow leopard.

The seminar took place in snow leopard habitat and concluded with the installation of the first seven cameras along the main transit routes of this rare predator. In October the number of camera traps, purchased with support from Panthera Foundation and the Altai Assistance Project, will be increased to twenty in the Argut Valley. The project will be implemented by local Inegen residents under the leadership of experienced staff from Altaisky Nature Reserve. As a result of the project, the development of a method for estimating snow leopard populations in the Argut Basin is planned. The active participation of local residents in this project engages them in snow leopard protection as a part of their natural and cultural heritage.

Another project goal is the development of a unique camera-trapping ecotourism route in the Argut River valley as part of a transboundary tourism route known as “Land of the Snow Leopard”.

On this route tourists can see not only unique landscapes along the Northern Chuisky and Katunsky Ridges, but they can also photograph local fauna, including the snow leopard, using camera traps. Local Inegen residents will organize the entire tour as part of Irbis-Ecotour’s tourism package, a project that has been underway in the Argut River valley for two years with support from WWF and UNDP/GEF. Finally, another planned aspect of this project is the establishment of a Snow Leopard Museum, meant to contain both scientific information about the species as well as the traditional knowledge of Altaian peoples about this charismatic predator of the high mountains. The museum will be a popular attraction not just for tourists traveling along the route, but also for local residents interested in protecting the snow leopard as a symbol of Altai.

WWF Russia
Community inspection is established in Republic of Altai to take part in anti – poaching activities in the key territory for argali and snow leopard conservation

Establishing of community inspection in Kosh – Agachsky Region near the Mongolian border is aimed to involve local indigenous people into nature conservation and rare species monitoring. Along with the government agencies the inspectors can remove illegal nets, snares and traps, help struggle poaching and conduct propaganda of nature conservation among the local villagers. They can monitor the situation and report to the law-enforcement agencies about the violations found. WWF provided the inspectors with the necessary equipment (cameras, means of communication, binoculars).

In July the representatives of nature conservation governmental organizations, law-enforcement agencies of Republic of Altai and the members of ten communities of indigenous people – telengits – gathered together to discuss the issues of public inspections. Ere – Chui – the Association of telengit communities was the organizer of the workshop supported by UNDP/GEF project.

At the workshop local people learned about the rights, obligation, duties and constraints of the public inspection, discussed the possibilities of the joined cooperation.
In whole the inspection is planned to consist of 15 telengit communities (30-35 inspectors), distributed all across Chuy valley and surrounding mountains. Every Telengit community is responsible for protection of its native mountain ranges and valleys and has real ability to decrease poaching in the habitats Argali and Snow Leopard – sacred animals for telengit people.

WWF Russia
“Land of Snow Leopard” Ecotourism Project as a tool to protect Irbis and Argali by local communities

“Land of Snow Leopard” project is a joint initiative of WWF and UNDP/GEF Project to involve local communities of Altai, Tuva and Western Mongolia to ecotourism development in the habitats of Snow Leopard and Altai Argali. The project will develop a transboundary ecotourism route based on local communities in South-Eastern Altai, South-Western Tuva and Western Mongolia, so local people will be able to have good income from tourist.

One of the most attractive features of “Land of Snow Leopard” route is an excellent opportunity to watch wild animals – Altai argali, Siberian Ibex, wolves, marmots, raptors and water foul. So, the protection of biodiversity by local communities will attract ecological tourists in the area and provide support for local people. Local people can work as tourist guides, souvenir makers and homestays providers. Due to WWF support last summer two ecotourist camps were established in Sailugem range by local communities of Telengit people. This area is the habitats of the largest Altai argali population on the border of Russia and Mongolia (about 500-600 individuals) and an excellent place to watch and film this endangered animals. In July 2010 the established camps opened the doors for the first visitors – WWF experts from Russia and Mongolia.

In September local people of Sailugem range participated in good training on tourist guiding and developed several routes for ecotourism excursions in argali and snow leopard habitats. The workshop was conducted by the trainers of Teaching Centre of Protected Areas in Republic of Altai organized with the support of WWF “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” Project. The Land of Snow Leopard route will start to operate next year conserving unique species of Altai-Sayan.

WWF Russia
Snow Leopard and Argali inspired the Masters of Felt Making of Republic of Altai

On September, 23 – 24 the workshop on felt making was organized by Fund of Sustainable Development of Altai (FSDA) with the support of UNDP/GEF Project in Kosh – Agach District. The main goal was not only to teach felt making but also inspire the locals to use the images of argali and snow leopard for the souvenirs.

In 2009 year the resurrecting of felt making in Republic of Altai became an important part of alternative livelihoods development programme for the people living close to protected areas for “Protected Areas for a Living Planet” project of WWF in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion. This kind of traditional craft has been almost forgotten in the area but it could be a good source of income for local people living in the habitats of rare species and a means of raising their livelihoods.

WWF concentrated on providing the local people with a chance to learn the new skills of felt making and experience share. “Marketing Commonwealth” festival in Mongolia was a starting point for Altai women to learn the basis of felt making. The number of new felt masters have been growing like a snow ball and at the moment there are about hundred of felt masters in Republic of Altai who continue teaching the other local people.
The workshops in September were organized only for the local people of three districts – the crucial for argali and snow leopard conservation. Revenue received from selling souvenirs will raise their income and help diminish illegal hunting and wild plants picking pressure. Besides the felt souvenirs will became an essential part of every camp of “Snow Leopard Land”.

Felt souvenirs are the famous, attractive and ecologically pure souvenirs popular all over the world. The resurrecting of felt making traditions is not only a chance for livelihoods growing but also the possibility to show the world cultural and natural heritage of Altai.

Snow Leopard – a Treasure of Tuva. WWF introduces Tuva journalists to the snow leopard (Tsagaan Shibetu Ridge)

Altai – Sayan Project of WWF became a member of a large- scale project “Tos Ertine” (Nine Treasures) in Republic of Tuva which is aimed to identify nine the most precious places and events of Tuvin Land. WWF proposed a snow leopard as a real treasure of Tuva. To support snow leopard WWF organized a press-tour for local TV-companies and newspapers to South-Western Tuva – a real Land of Snow Leopard. Headed by the experts of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserves the journalists had a chance to visit the key habitat of a snow leopard in Tuva – a mysterious place of Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge near the border with Mongolia. Tsagan-Shibetu is one of the key snow leopard distributions in Altai-Sayan Ecoregion located in transboundary zone of Russia and Mongolia. The total number of snow leopards in Tsagan-Shibetu population is about 20 individuals.

The journalists spent three days in Tsagan-Shibetu Mountains, so that they could personally experience how the snow leopards live and survive in places which were once their hunting range and now they are settled by herders. They found out how the poachers capture leopard cubs to sell to private zoos of rich people. How, due to decrease of wild ungulates by

poachers irbis is forced to attack domestic livestock of local herders. The journalists learned more about conservation projects of WWF and other conservation groups to protect snow leopards: in 2007-2008 all livestock pens in snow leopard habitats were protected with metal mesh and number of livestock killed by snow leopards decreased 5-8 times; in 2010 an ecotourism project called “Land of Snow Leopard” started in South-Western Tuva in cooperation with herder communities; new cluster of Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature reserve is planned on Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge.

The visit to snow leopards was also annexed to the field work of The Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciense in Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge. This project was made possible by Government of Russian Federation in the frameworks of the Big Cat program devoted to wild cats study and conservation in Russia including an endangered snow leopard. The scientists have been working in Tsagan-Shibetu since June, and every day they carefully set up and check their camera traps to get pictures of irbis. Their goal is to try out the new methods of research of irbis populations in South-Eastern Tuva: using camera traps and DNA analysis for precise estimation of snow leopard number, satellite collars to learn more about irbis home range and movements. More than 40 camera traps had been set up on Tsagaan-Shibetu ridge but the only and the very first sharp image of the irbis was taken right on the day the journalists arrived. RECONIХ camera took a picture in grayish fog, but a distinct silhouette of a snow leopard can be seen in profile: the irbis was moving along the path in early dusk. Inspired and amazed the journalist went home.

WWF Mongolia
Nature conservation through involving local residents and supporting their initiatives

WWF Mongolia aims to conserve the nature through strengthening local people on their self-development and livelihood improvement. Within this aim it supports herders’ community groups in many ways. Such example was a 3-day meeting on strengthening management team of herder community groups and evaluation of their activities was carried out in August 2010. Around 10 herder community groups from saiga range area have participated in the event and many of them were newly established. The participants shared their experience and lessons learned on group development, livelihood improvement options and conservation activities. A first draft of work plan for the coming year was elaborated in a participatory approach which will focus more on surface water resources. A volunteer ranger is agreed to be nominated within each community group.

Besides, the groups have held their annual Community Development Festival with participation and support of local authorities. Activities also made aware about the advantages of becoming community group member and encouraging them to join a community-based organization. During the festival, a trade exhibition was organized displaying various products made by herders. Other entertainment shows such as sport games contests, quiz and art show have been held as well. The festival enabled the local communities have in-depth knowledge and benefits as the key tool to accelerate the rural development.

Community groups trans-boundary cooperation

Members of some community groups of Uvs and Khovd provinces participated in the International Felt Festival 2010 which was held in Tuva, Russia. There were number of wool masters from many countries and provinces of Russia such as Abakan, Bashkorstan, Khakasia, Krasnoyarsk attending the event. Trade fair was displayed with various activities like wool processing, product making shows, competitions on several nominations and so on. Mongolian participants expressed their satisfaction as they have gained awards in 2 nominations, e.g. the best processed felt and best souvenir product. They were grateful to the organizers as they learned a lot from the masters of other countries. Contact with some of them is being maintained which would open new horizons to expand the existing market.

Afterwards, an advanced training on wool and felt products design was conducted with financial and logistical support of WWF Mongolia with totally 24 wool masters of community groups from Uvs and Khovd provinces have been trained and certified.

WWF Russia
WWF and Oxfam –GB joint project works on capacity building of local people in Tuva

Potential Business Trainers Workshop held in Kyzil City in Tuva in September was aimed to identify potential people willing and capable to become the business trainers. Being involved as trainers into the workshops they will later share their knowledge with the local people who live in three key districts for snow leopard and argali conservation in Tuva. Teaching local people business basis will help them start their own business and raise the livelihood and moreover to distract them from poaching for food in this area which is the main reason for illegal hunting as reported in WWF – Oxfam survey last year.

The workshop was headed by the experts from the European part of Russia who used their own “Start Your Business” Programme to teach the new-comers the basis of training and training organization.

Eleven participants (mostly women) attended a 5 day-long full-time workshop learning the aspects of working with people, training and developing communicative skills. At the end of the meeting everyone had to prove the skills they had obtained. The participants had to conduct a part of a made-up training, demonstrate the use of exercises, elaborate their own methodological materials and so on. Six people with a high potential for becoming the professional trainers were identified.

WWF Mongolia
Altai-Sayan PA administration staff start to undertake quality research activities at experts level

A major research work has been carried out by the staff of five Altai-Sayan PA administrations in the Khasagt Khairkhan mountain range, a division of the Altai mountain system. Studies covered the distribution, habitat range and population patterns of rare and endangered species such as the Snow Leopard, Siberian Ibex, Red Deer and some avian species.

As it was decided to establish a new administration to conserve the integrity of Khasagt Khairkhan Strictly Protected Area’s biodiversity, this research study is of key significance which would serve as baseline documentation for development of management plan.

The core feature of this research tour is that the PA administration staffs have carried out the research studies themselves without any technical backstopping at high professional level, which we truly believe to be the key outcome of WWF’s interventions.

Furthermore, the participants have had a unique opportunity to get on-job training as they apply theoretical knowledge in practice. For the last three years WWF Mongolia made tremendous efforts to build the capacity of PA staff at all levels through series of training sessions, technical consultancy and research activities with regular feedbacks.

Another major fish survey has been carried out in the Khar, Khar-Us, Khyargas and Airag lakes, in the Great Lakes Depression of the Altai-Sayan Mongolia part. For the last two decades, only ad-hoc based surveys were conducted with no consistent database. This survey is featured by its on-job training for the PA staffs that are further expected to carry-out observations and establish reliable database on regular basis.

Field studies evaluating argali populations took place in Russia

28 July 2010

Field studies evaluating argali populations took place

Between July 16 and 23rd, field work to assess transboundary argali
populations took place as part of a program to study this rare and
large subspecies of the arkhar sheep. The early results of the survey
are now available. There are approximately 700 individuals in Russia.
The total transboundary population will be publicized when data is
received from Mongolian colleagues.

… This field work was made possible with the financial and
informational support of the UNDP/GEF “Preserving Biodiversity in the
Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.”

During this field work, all modern argali habitats in the Russian
Federation were studied: Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge, Mongun-Taiga Massif
(Republic of Tuva), Chikhachev Ridge (Altai Republic, Republic of
Tuva), Sailyugem Ridge and Ukok Plateau (Altai Republic). Mongolian
specialists conducted synchronous counts on the other side of the
border. On the Tsagan-Shibetu Ridge and the Mongun-Taiga Massif no
argali were found during the summer of 2010. 240-250 individuals were
counted on Chikhachoev and Talduair, and 440-450 on the Sailyugem Ridge.

While argali are concentrated in several relatively isolated groupings
on the Chikhachev Ridge (Builyukem-Mount Chernaya-Bogoyash 11%, Bert-
Adyr-KochkorLu-Akkayaluozek 27%, Tekelyu 11%, Talduair 12%, BarBurgazy-
KaraOyuk-NarynGol-ChaganGol 16%, Oristy-Boguty 23%) on Sailyugem
Ridge, the majority of sheep (93%) keep to one large pocket – Kara-Su
– Bayan-Chagan – Sarzhematy – Kalanegir – Kuruk.

During the 2009-2010 winter, mountainous ungulates and livestock
experienced severe conditions. There was great loss of livestock on
both sides of the border. Despite this, wild ungulates fared better.
During field studies, the bodies of 14 argali were notes, including 7
deaths caused by poachers, but there was not indication of a large die-
off. This does not exceed the number of dead argali found in an
average year during such expeditions. However, all observers did note
a reduced percentage of lambs in the groups, relative to easier years.
Apparently the difficult winter had an impact on the viability of

Poaching incidents were noted in the Ak-Adyr area (Republic of Tuva)
and Bayan-Chagan (Altai Republic). Poaching activities in Ak-Adyr have
become traditional (noted during each expedition). This winter, 3
argali (one male and two females) were killed right on the border, and
another two males seem to have been injured. They died there and were
eaten by foxes and carrion-eating birds. In the location from which
the shots were likely fired – cliff near the border – fresh
cartridges from a 223 Remington were found. These cartridges were
collected with the goal of establishing the rifle’s ownership with a
query to the federal bullet and shell casing registry. It should also
be noted that there are new signs of a serious anthropogenic impact on
the argali population – industrial mining of tungsten deposits, using
open pits, in argali habitat on the Chikhachev Ridge (Karakulskoye
deposit). Fragile high-elevation ecosystems and argali habitat can be
destroyed when prospecting pits and pit mines are strip mined, as well
as the impacts of road-building. In addition, argali are also
disturbed by sounds coming from such operations and by vehicles, as
well as the presence of a large number of people. Currently, mining
operations have stopped for economic reasons, and there are currently
only two guards on site. Future continuation of mining here will lead
to the isolation of arkhar in the northern part of the Chikhachev
Ridge, will all the resulting impacts, as the commercial pit mine and
deposit are located along the argali’s seasonal migration route.

Translation thanks to Jennifer Castner.

28.07.2010 В рамках проекта прошли полевые работы по оценке численности трансграничных группировок аргали

В период с 16 июня по 23 июля 2010 г. на территории России и Монголии проводились полевые работы по оценке численности трансграничных группировок аргали в соответствии с программой мониторинга этого самого редкого и крупного подвида архаров. Сейчас подведены предварительные итоги учета. На территории России учтено около 700 особей. Общая численность трансграничных группировок станет известна, когда будут получены учетные сведения от монгольских коллег.

С российской стороны в работе приняли участие сотрудники двух соседних заповедников: Спицын С.В. – руководитель работ (Алтайский заповедник, Республика Алтай), Донгак С.Б., Куулар С.М., Бегзи С.Ф.(заповедник Убсунурская котловина, Республика Тыва). Полевые работы проводились при финансовой и информационной поддержке Проекта ПРООН/ГЭФ «Сохранение биоразнообразия Алтае-Саянского экорегиона».

В ходе полевых работ были обследованы все современные места обитания аргали в российской федерации: хребет Цаган-Шибету, массив Монгун-Тайга (Республика Тыва), хребет Чихачева (Республика Тыва, Республика Алтай), хребет Сайлюгем и плато Укок (Республика Алтай). Монгольские специалисты проводили синхронные учеты по другую сторону границы. На хребте Цаган-Шибету и массиве Монгун-Тайга летом 2010 г. аргали не обнаружены. На хребте Чихачева и Талдуаире учтено 240 – 250 особей, на хребте Сайлюгем – 440 – 450. Если аргали на хребте Чихачева концентрируются в нескольких относительно обособленных очагах (Буйлюкем – г. Черная – Богояш (11%); Берт-Адыр – Кочкор-Лу – Аккаялуозек (27%); Текелю (11%); Талдуаир (12%); Бар-Бургазы – Кара-Оюк – Нарын-Гол – Чаган-Гол (16%); Ористы – Богуты (23%)), то на хребте Сайлюгем большая часть баранов местной группировки (93 %) держится в одном крупном очаге обитания – Кара-Су – Баян-Чаган – Саржематы – Каланегир – Курук.

Зима 2009 – 2010 г подвергла суровому испытанию горных копытных и домашний скот. По обе стороны границы отмечен большой падеж скота. Однако дикие копытные лучше справились с зимовкой. В ходе полевого обследования территории установлена гибель 14 аргали, из них 7 от рук браконьеров, а массовых случаев гибели не выявлено. Это не превышает число находок останков аргали в обычные годы при такого рода экспедициях. Однако при учетах наблюдателями все же отмечался меньший процент ягнят в группах, чем в более благоприятные годы. Видимо трудности зимовки отразились на жизнестойкости потомства.

Случаи браконьерства зафиксированы в урочище Ак-Адыр (Республика Тыва) и Баян-Чаган (Республика Алтай). В урочище Ак-Адыр браконьерские охоты на аргали уже стали традиционными (отмечаются каждую экспедицию). В эту зиму здесь прямо на границе добыли 3 аргали (1 самца и 2 самок), еще двух самцов, видимо ранили. Они погибли здесь же, и были съедены лисами и пернатыми падальщиками. На месте предполагаемой засады стрелка, на скале прямо рядом с границей найдены свежие стреляные гильзы калибра 223 Remington. Гильзы изъяты с целью установления владельца оружия через запрос в федеральную пулегильзотеку. Необходимо также отметить серьезный фактор антропогенного воздействия на популяцию аргали, которого не было многие годы – промышленная разработка месторождений металлов (вольфрам) открытым способом в местообитаниях аргали на хребте Чихачева (Каракульское месторождение). Хрупкие высокогорные экосистемы подвергаются разрушению – производится вскрыша шурфов и карьеров, прокладка дорог – тем самым уничтожается среда обитания архаров. Среди прочего – шум механизмов и машин, присутствие большого количества людей. В настоящее время работы приостановлены по экономическим причинам, и на руднике находятся только 2 сторожа. Дальнейшее продолжение добычи приведет к изоляции архаров в северной части хребта Чихачева со всеми вытекающими последствиями, так как промышленный карьер и рудник находятся как раз на пути сезонных перекочевок аргали.

WWF Altai-Sayan Newsletter issue #12: April – June, 2010

WWF Russia and WWF Mongolia share the main achievements of both offices in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion regarding species conservation, protected areas, ecotourism, public awareness, education, eco clubs, fresh water. Several articles reference snow leopards:

WWF Mongolia
Argali population observation in transboundary area

WWF Mongolia has been doing observation of argali sheep movement in the transboundary area between Mongolia and Russia for the last 6 years through radio-collar on new-born lambs. This year 10 more lambs were collared. The total number of collared lambs in Uvs province reached\s up to 43 individuals. This year WWF Mongolia expanded the observation area to Siilkhem mountain range which is located in Bayan-Ulgii province. The process involved the local people, rangers and state border officers who are expected to carry out the further observations.

WWF Russia
Ecotourism camps in the habitats of a snow leopard and argali WWF and UNDP

Project started a joined program devoted to development of transboundary ecotourism route in snow leopard and Altai argali habitats in Altai, Tuva and Western Mongolia. The project is based on local communities living in the habitats of endangered species. Thus, in May-June two eco-camps for tourists were organized in Altai on the base of the communities of telengits – the indigenous people of Sailyugem Ridge. Three traditional telengit yurts, a sauna, a guest house and the solar panels were established in the eco – camps in collaboration with Ere – Chui, the Association of Telengit Communities. Poaching – is one of the major threat for argali and snow leopard in Sailyugem, where Sailugem National Park was established recently. A chance to watch a snow leopard and its prey in the wild is supposed to be a specific trait of the planning eco-tours. Rare species conservation will become an indispensable condition for income generation of the local people. The communities receive the equipment and constructions for tourists in exchange for argali and snow leopard conservation. In case of poaching among the participants of the ecotourism projectall equipment and constructions will be confiscated. The involvement of the local people into ecotourism activities secures the requisites for snow leopard and argali protection. Community inspection was organized in Sailugem Ridge as a part of the project. So, telengits now can take active part in anti-poaching activities in cooperation with government agencies.

WWF Russia
WWF assessed the level of conflict between herders and a snow leopard in Republic of Tyva

The understanding of local people’s attitude towards a snow leopard is crucial for conservation of this endangered species. In May 2010 special reseach was supported by WWF Russia to collect information on snow leopard attacs to livestock on Shapshal Ridge – one of the most important species shelter in Altai-Sayan. WWF experts discivered that only 127 heads of livestock were killed by a snow leopard in Shapshal Ridge area in 2001-2010 (for 10 years). So, snow leopards kill on an average 12 – 13 heads of livestock a year (to compare a wolfs kill 703 heads of livestock annually – which is 6 times more than a snow leopards kill for 10 years!).

«There are the herders’ camps where a snow leopard attacks livestock every year, – says Alexander Kuksin, Ubsunurskaya Kotlovina Nature Reserve. – The shepherds themselves relate this fact with a mating period of this wild cat when snow leopards become more active. They say once a herder saw a snow leopard killing his goat on a pasture at daytime. The tuvinian drove away a leopard’s kill however at night a snow leopard got into “koshara (a sheep shed) and killed 30 goats and sheep there”.

Local people poll opinion’s results proved that the shepherds had either neutral or negative attitude towards a rare animal. The people are perfectly aware of a punishment for killing a snow leopard however the cases of poaching are known. One shepherd tried to shoot a snow leopard two years ago but missed, a female snow leopard was shot as a revenge for killing cattle, another animal was caught in a wire loop in 2007. The case is still being investigated. WWF experts consider the measures for the conflict mitigation. The activities proposed include the active propaganda of snow leopard conservation among the local people, the promotion of a snow leopard image as a sacred symbol of Altai – Sayan, ecotourism development involving the herders, souvenirs productions (a snow leopard statuettes). The planning Shui Nature Park will provide for the conservation of a rare animal as well.

WWF Russia
The first ecological festival in the history of Mountain Altai for snow leopard conservation!

The festival called “ A Snow Leopard Day” was hold in Republic of Altai in May, 2010. This unique and very attractive way of promoting rare species conservation was used for the first time and worked very well. 78 schoolchildren of Ulagansky and Kosh – Agachsky regions of Republic of Altai – two key sites for snow leopard conservation in Mountain Altai – ecame the participants of the event. The Head of the Directorate of protected areas of Mongolian Altai Mantai Khavilkhan was the guest of the festival. The results of two contests on the best legend “Snow Leopard – the Legend of Mountains” and the best drawing or craftwork “Save a Snow Leopard” were summed up at the festival. The amazing craftworks made by schoolchildren – a snow leopard and other rare species statuettes made of ceramics, wax, dough and wheat, paper applications were exhibited during the festival. The different songs, dances, performances and even power point presentation were presented for the jury to choose the winner. The wish to help a vulnerable animal and care for its future were seen through children’s appeal to save a snow leopard. ”I was surprised how knowledgeable the children are, – marked Mikhail Paltsyn, – the projects coordinator in Altai – Sayan Ecoregion. – It is extremely important to make a base for nature conservation in the souls of the people form the very early age. Our children will make our future”.

The regional level festival is planned to be promoted up to the level of Republic. The children proposed to name 26, May the Snow Leopard Day and next year invite the children form Republic of Tyva and Mongolia.

Kazakhstan faces many severe environmental issues

Note: We have no information re: the source of this article’s information or what date this was published online. Located May 2010.

Kazakhstan faces several important environmental issues. As the site of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear testing programs, areas of the nation have been exposed to high levels of nuclear radiation, and there is significant radioactive pollution. The nation also has 30 uranium mines, which add to the problem of uncontrolled release of radioactivity. Kazakhstan has sought international support to convince China to stop testing atomic bombs near its territory, because of the dangerous fallout.

Mismanagement of irrigation projects has caused the level of the Aral Sea to drop by 13 m, decreasing its size by 50%. The change in size has changed the climate in the area and revealed 3 million hectares of land that are now subject to erosion.

Air pollution in Kazakhstan is another significant environmental problem. Acid rain damages the environment within the country and also affects neighboring countries. In 1992 Kazakhstan had the world’s 14th highest level of industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 297.9 million metric tons, a per capita level of 17.48 metric tons. In 1996, the total had dropped to 173.8 million metric tons. Pollution from industrial and agricultural sources has also damaged the nation’s water supply. UN sources report that, in some cases, contamination of rivers by industrial metals is 160 to 800 times beyond acceptable levels. Pollution of the Caspian Sea is also a problem.

Kazakhstan’s wildlife is in danger of extinction due to the overall level of pollution. According to current estimates, some areas of the nation will not be able to sustain any form of wildlife by the year 2015. In the areas where pollution is the most severe, 11 species of mammals and 19 species of birds and insects are already extinct. As of 2001, 15 mammal species, 15 bird species, 5 types of freshwater fish, and 36 species of plant are listed as threatened. Threatened species include the argali, Aral salmon, great bustard, snow leopard, and tiger. The mongolian wild horse has recently become extinct in the wild.

Illegal January 2009 argali helicopter hunting case in the Altai Republic reopened

Illegal Hunting Case Reopened After Huff

12 November 2009By Maria Antonova

Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin reopened an investigation Wednesday into whether charges should be filed against survivors of a party of government officials who were illegally hunting endangered sheep when their helicopter crashed in January.

Bastrykin’s announcement came as an outcry grew over his decision to quietly close the investigation in August and embarrassingly just a day after his committee awarded Altai Governor Alexander Berdnikov, whose deputy is a suspect in the case, with a medal for cooperating with investigators.The Investigative Committee first opened an investigation into the illegal hunt of argali sheep in the Altai republic in April, about three months after the crash of the helicopter carrying Altai Deputy Governor Anatoly Bannykh and the president’s envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin. While Bannykh was among the four survivors, Kosopkin was one of seven people who died in the crash.The investigation was closed in August because “all the people who can be charged in this case … died during the crash,” while the survivors, including Bannykh, “did not take any actions to pursue or shoot the animals,” Bastrykin said in a written statement sent to the Altai legislature after local lawmakers asked him for an update on the investigation in September.

The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times, lists five deceased people as suspects of illegal hunting by helicopter, is dated Oct. 13 and is signed by Bastrykin himself.

The statement only surfaced last weekend, inciting public outrage over Bastrykin’s decision to blame only the dead for breaking the law.

Moreover, Berdnikov, the Altai governor who also has been implicated in the hunting trip by national media, received a medal from the Investigative Committee on Tuesday during Police Day celebrations. The medal, “For Cooperation,” was presented to Berdnikov by Bastrykin’s deputy Andrei Mushatov for Berdnikov’s “cooperation in the effective work of investigators,” according to a statement on the regional government’s official web site.

On Wednesday, the Investigative Committee suddenly showed interest in the case again, with Bastrykin ordering “procedural control authorities to closely look at the case’s materials … and check the completeness of the investigation,” according to a statement posted on the committee’s web site.

In response to a phone inquiry of what this means and whether the case had been reopened, a spokeswoman refused to comment and hung up.

A few hours later, the committee posted a statement on the web site saying Bastrykin had reopened the case.

Environmentalists, whose efforts helped prompt investigators to open a criminal case in the first place, criticized Bastrykin’s explanation to Altai lawmakers that the surviving passengers were not part of the hunt. “Kosopkin and Bannykh were the two most highly placed officials on the helicopter, and the hunt never would have happened if they had opposed pursuing the animals,” said Alexei Vaisman, a researcher with the World Wildlife Fund.

But reopening the case at the height of a public outcry smacks of a public relations stunt, said security analyst Andrei Soldatov. “They are likely to close the case again when the situation quiets down again, like they did after reopening the case of Shchekochikhin,”

Soldatov said, referring to the mysterious death of Novaya Gazeta reporter and State Duma Deputy Yury Shchekochikhin in 2003.

Alexei Gribkov, an environmentalist from Barnaul in the neighboring Altai region, said a thorough investigation was unlikely because it would probably “unravel many nasty details implicating people from beyond the region, like Kosopkin’s superiors.”

He said it was still not clear who had financed the hunt in the Gazpromavia-owned helicopter. “For us, it is very important to set a precedent with this … hunt because it was certainly not the first incident,” he said by telephone.

Berdnikov, whose term expires in January, flew to Moscow on Wednesday to attend President Dmitry Medvedev’s state-of-the nation address Thursday. He was unavailable for comment, said a woman who answered the phone at Altai’s representative office in Moscow.

Poaching by Helicopter a Popular Pastime

23 January 2009
By Anna Malpas / Staff Writer Moscow Times

When a helicopter carrying senior government officials crashed into a
remote Altai mountainside earlier this month, killing several
passengers, the accident appeared to be nothing more than a tragic
loss of life.

But photographs snapped at the crash site have thrown a spotlight on
what conservationists say is a disturbingly popular pastime among the
country’s political and business elite: the expensive sport of
poaching from helicopters.

One photograph published on an Altai region web site shows the
carcasses of endangered argali sheep among the wreckage of the Mi-171
helicopter that crashed Jan. 9. One of the sheep has a knife sticking
out of its haunches.

The wild sheep is one of Russia‘s rarest animals, and hunting it is
punishable by up to two years in prison. The photograph prompted
ecologists to press prosecutors to investigate whether the officials
were hunting illegally when their helicopter went down.

Among the seven federal, regional and local officials killed in the
crash was Viktor Kaimin, the Altai republic’s top official charged
with protecting the region’s wildlife and whose committee was
responsible for issuing hunting licenses.

Regional prosecutors say no formal investigation has been opened into
whether the officials were engaging in illegal hunting, though
regional environmental officials said they would push for a probe
into the circumstances of the incident, which some ecologists and
political commentators have dubbed “Altaigate.”

Conservationists say it is an open secret that officials come to
Altai for hunting trips in which they simply shoot at animals from
hovering helicopters, despite a ban on the practice.

With its remote mountains, the pristine Gorny Altai region is popular
with hunters, and hunting is legal in some areas for Siberian goat
and red deer.

“Over the last decade, Altai has become a place where helicopter
hunting has become rather common,” said Alexei Vaisman, head of WWF-
Russia’s anti-animal trafficking program.

The officials in the fatal expedition had hunting licences for
Siberian goats and red deer, Yelena Kobzeva, a spokeswoman for the
Altai government, told Interfax. The photographs published on the web site, however, clearly show animals with round
curved horns, while Siberian goats have tall, slightly curved horns.

Vaisman, whose organization has been joined by Greenpeace and other
environmental groups in calling for an investigation, said WWF-Russia
does not “want anyone’s blood.”

“We don’t want anyone to be imprisoned,” Vaisman said. “The main aim
of our actions is to make a court give an official legal assessment
of what happened.”

Also killed in the crash were Alexander Kosopkin, the Kremlin’s envoy
to the State Duma, and Sergei Livishin, a senior member of the
presidential administration.

Survivors included Anatoly Bannykh, deputy head of the Altai
‘s administration, and Nikolai Kopranov, an adviser to the
Duma’s Economic Policy Committee.

Gorny Altai attracts “VIP hunters,” said Oleg Mitvol, the outspoken
deputy head of Federal Inspection Service for Natural Resources Use.
“There are special lodges that can only be reached by helicopter,”
Mitvol said. “They are luxurious. Just imagine how much it costs to
stay there.”

Environmentalists say helicopter hunting trips cannot be organized
without the knowledge and support of local officials.

It’s “rather common” for regional officials to treat federal
officials to free hunting trips, Vaisman said. “It’s not a bribe,
it’s to make good relations, to get additional money to the region
from the federal center,” he said.

Low-level officials are often involved in organizing the trips too.
State game wardens receive “almost negligible” salaries of around
1,000 rubles ($32) per month, Vaisman said.

Such helicopter hunting trips are organized in Kamchatka, Magadan,
Sakhalin and Primorye regions, Vaisman said. “It’s popular among high-
level officials and so-called New Russians, who think they are above
the law,” he said.

The targets can be mountain sheep, snow sheep, mountain goats, bears
or moose, Vaisman said. “They shoot directly from the helicopter and
then land to pick up any trophies,” he said.

Kobzeva, the Altai Republic administration spokeswoman, told The
Moscow Times by telephone that the officials who crashed earlier this
month were on a private trip and that no funds from the regional
budget were used to finance it. The administration has no information
on who ordered and paid for the trip, Kobzeva said.

Helicopter hunting trips even take place in nature reserves, said
Mikhail Paltsyn, a scientist with a UN-sponsored environmental
program called Biodiversity Conservation in the Russian Portion of
the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion.

“Helicopter hunts take place regularly for Siberian goats and red
in the Argut River valley, in Shavlinsky nature reserve, where
hunting is completely banned,” Paltsyn said in e-mailed comments. “On
practically all our expeditions to the Argut River valley, we see
hunting helicopters and find traces of such hunting. Local residents
say that helicopters with hunters come to these places every month.”

Last February, conservationists spotted a helicopter on two
consecutive days circling and apparently firing at Siberian goats and
red deer. They wrote down the number and contacted game wardens and
police. “The people responsible were never found,” Paltsyn said. “It
looks like the servants of the people were hunting again.”

Hiring a helicopter costs tens of thousands of rubles per hour, said
Anatoly Mozharov, the editor of Safari magazine for hunters. Mozharov
stressed, however, that legitimate hunters use helicopters to fly to
far-flung areas and then hunt from the ground.

Killing a protected animal is a crime in Russia punishable by up to
two years. Relatively few poachers are ever convicted, however,
officials and environmentalists said.

“Very few investigations are ever opened regarding ecological
crimes,” Mitvol said. “Last year, practically none were opened.
Unfortunately, many VIP hunters take into account that no criminal
investigation will ever be opened against them.”

A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor General’s Office said the office had
no available data on the number of illegal hunting cases investigated
last year or the number of people convicted of poaching.

Convictions are rare in such cases because illegal hunting is “very,
very difficult to prove,” said Alexander Bondarev, head of the
Biodiversity Conservation in the Russian Portion of the Altai-Sayan

“Some people see a helicopter in the mountains, but it’s not possible
to determine which animal was shot,” he said.

In Gorny Altai, hunters often receive permission to shoot Siberian
goats — whose territory is close to that of the endangered argali
sheep, Bondarev said. The hunters can therefore claim that they are
shooting at the goats, not the wild sheep.

“The only possibility is to find the hunter near the animal,”
Bondarev said. “But it’s very difficult to prove that he killed this

Bondarev’s organization was one of the first to issue a statement
identifying the animals in the photograph as argali sheep. The
organization focuses on the conservation of argali and the snow
leopard, both of which are listed as endangered in Russia.

The argali sheep is one of the region’s rarest species, and its
population in Russia numbers only a few hundred.

The argali are the largest wild sheep in the world. Their large,
curly horns, weighing around 50 kilograms, are prized as trophies.

The area where the helicopter crashed is home to the largest group of
argali sheep in Russia. Since they migrate between Mongolia and
Russia, it is difficult to say how many sheep remain. In winter it
could be 100-150, while in summer they number up to 400, Paltsyn said.

“The greatest threat for argali is poaching, including hunting by
some local residents and hunting for pleasure and trophies by
visiting hunters,” Paltsyn said.

It is unclear how many argali are killed illegally each year in
Russia, Bondarev said. He estimated that around six of the animals
are poached annually.

Kaimin, the environmental official killed in the crash, was embroiled
in a scandal in 2003 after he was purportedly seen hunting argali
sheep. Altai Republic lawmakers appealed to prosecutors to
investigate the incident, though the case was later dropped.

A spokesman for the Altai newspaper that reported on the story,
Postskriptum, said in a telephone interview that the case was dropped
because it rested exclusively on statements from witnesses.

Attempts to reach the Altai Republic‘s committee for the protection,
use and reproduction of the animal world — which Kaimin headed up
before his death — were unsuccessful. The committee had only five
members, of whom only one was an inspector, Paltsyn said. Until
recently, it had no transport, funds for raids or inspector team, he

“If the fact of poaching is confirmed, then of course this
organization is just ineffective,” said Svetlana Shchegrina, head of
environmental education at the Altai regional nature reserve, which
also has a population of argali sheep. “It’s a terrible case.”